By Stuart Miller-Osborne
This article first appeared in the February 2015 edition of the Hungerford Arcade Newsletter and is reproduced here with their permission.
I had casually collected the odd mug or received one as a present on a special day but I only had a few dotted around the cottage. However, my interest was aroused and I began to collect more seriously and found it to be a very interesting and inexpensive hobby and because of this decided to write a short article on the subject.
I was quite surprised during my researches to discover that commemorative china and royal souvenirs dated back to the 1600, although I cannot say that I have ever seen any. It was during the reign of George III (1760-1820) and after that royal memorabilia was really produced seriously with the advent of transfer printing and the improved manufacturing and distribution techniques. Even then, it was a little sparse just celebrating royal events and obviously the coronation of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Over the years, I have seen a few items dating from this period but they can be quite scarce and with the scarcity come the value, which makes them hard to find on a casual basis. However, as the nineteenth century progressed then the demand for this nature of memorabilia increased.
From the time of the Industrial Revolution, Britain led the world in most things. There were many reasons to be proud of the nation and this was especially the case with The Great Exhibition of 1851. A large number of souvenirs were produced from engraved shells to condiments, from prints of the grand building to plates, cups and mugs. The whole event was a great success and as far as my researches suggest it confirmed the appetite for souvenirs for this or any other special event. This was the first large event that did not involve the royal family and it occurred nearly fifteen years into Queen Victoria’s reign. It would be over fifty years before Britain and the Empire had a new monarch on the throne. There were many royal events between 1851 and 1901 including the marriages of Victoria’s children as well as the golden and diamond jubilees that occurred in 1887 and 1897 respectively.
Souvenir ware of this time is more common and memorabilia is not too hard to find. I have a rather battered example of a mug dating from the 1897 Diamond Jubilee. The sentiments expressed on the mug reflect the era perfectly
Empire On Which The Sun Never Sets
Queen Of England
Empress Of India
God Save The Queen
Little did people know in 1897 that really the process of decline had already begun. World War One was not far away and the stirrings of change had already begun to be felt in Europe. Queen Victoria died in 1901 and for the coronation of Edward VII, the memorabilia produced did not vary enormously from what had been available before. Possibly the Empire part had been toned down. But it was pretty similar to what had been produced before. As with history nothing had changed for generations then the country had two kings in ten years. When George V became king in 1911, the same souvenir process went into gear once again although the commemorative ware did not really differ. Queen Mary (1867-1953) was shown on a large number of items as Queen Alexandra (1844-1925) had been previously which differed from Victorian examples a little.
Royalty-wise, all went along swimmingly with the next major event being the Silver Jubilee of George and Mary in 1935. It was after the death of George V in 1936 that life became more complicated for a while Edward VIII was next in line, but, because of the Wallis Simpson (1896-1986) scandal, his younger brother George VI became king in his place. Obviously many souvenirs were produced at this time but because of the unusual nature of this volatile period some have become quite rare and valuable.
Our present queen was crowned in 1953 and examples of the era are very common. The strange thing is that, although the country had been through two world wars, the actual memorabilia, whilst having matured, really carried the same message as it had some fifty years previously. It was only when the 1970s arrived that styles to some extent changed. There are some awful examples especially at the time of Princess Anne’s first wedding in 1973 of what can be quite politely termed “designs of the time”. Nevertheless, they are collectable. Some sanity returned with the Silver Jubilee in 1977 and overall things have not changed radically in the last thirty years or so. Of some interest though is that at times since the 1920s artists such as Laura Knight (1877-1970) and Eric Ravillous (1903-1942) have been commissioned to design mugs which in mint condition can be quite valuable and worth collecting. I recently saw a Laura Knight mug (and certification of authenticity) designed for the proposed coronation of Edward the Eighth going for three figures. Indeed even Clarice Cliff (1899-1972) designed a rather beautiful coronation plate for the 1953 event.
Not all items in Victoria’s era were commemorating royal events. One concerns a hero of mine, Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904). In 1886, he set out on an expedition to rescue one Emin Pasha (1840-1892) who was the late General Charles Gordon’s (1833-1885) governor of Equatoria and was under great threat from the Mahdist forces. The whole venture was a disaster from beginning to end .This did not deter the Victorians though and a commemorative plate was produced sometime after he returned in 1890. This is something that I hope to find one day. I have two other heroes of this African period, Richard Burton (1821-1890) and Pierre De Brazza (1852-1905). I have yet to locate any commemorative items for either man. Souvenirs may exist but, like the 1933 penny, they are next to impossible to find.
As I noted earlier, the Great Exhibition of 1851 was one of the first really big events not connected to royalty. In the period between this event and the Festival of Britain exactly a century later, there occurred many other exhibitions. The Empire Exhibition of 1924 and the lesser- known Empire Exhibition in Glasgow in 1938 are my favourites. The former was held in Wembley near the recently demolished Wembley Stadium. It was a vast project and surprisingly enough one can still see the remains of some of the pavilions near the new stadium. The Glasgow exhibition was held in Bellaston Park near Ibrox Stadium (the home of Glasgow Rangers FC). For some reason I find collecting memorabilia from these events, more interesting that the Festival Of Britain. This is maybe because the 1924 exhibition reflected the hope of the country after The Great War whereas the Glasgow Exhibition of 1938 seemed to be the last bright dawn before the long nights of World War Two. This is a personal choice and I would imagine that fellow collectors have their favourites.
The great thing about collecting royal souvenirs is that it is a very affordable hobby. Like all purchases, you can pay more. I have seen common coronation memorabilia costing a great deal more in places like Henley on Thames or in the London antique markets whereas in Hungerford you can pay a fraction of the price. I frequently purchase memorabilia for a pound or less whereas I have seen cups and saucers and other souvenirs costing up to twenty pounds elsewhere. Obviously church fetes and jumble sales are places to look although I have noted that charity shops tend to be a little more expensive. I recently noted an unremarkable Charles & Diana wedding mug from 1981 selling for nearly ten pounds. The very same souvenir was for sale here in Hungerford for two pounds. It is up to the collector to know the value of the item he or she is interested in. Although a cheap hobby prices outside of those described above can vary if a famous company has made the piece. If it is a limited edition or was designed by known artist then this will increase its value. Like all things if the item is a little hard to find then one might pay more. A product of the hobby is that with all souvenirs you can pay a lot of money or settle for cheap alternatives. It is your choice.
Over the years, I have come across many cheap souvenirs especially commemorating royal occasions where the portrait of the royal in question is highly amusing to say the least. Some of the likenesses of Victoria or Edward in those years bear more of resemblance to a Hogarth or a Goya. This just adds to the fun of the hobby as well as in its way giving comment to the social history of the piece. It would not be fanciful to imagine a child spending his last penny so that his mother may have souvenir of the occasion in question. Whether the portrait of the royal looked more like a caricature would probably been of little consequence to them.
Since I started researching this article, I have purchased three Peace Mugs that were made in 1919 as a commemoration of the end of hostilities. These can be hard to find and normally you can expect to pay around five pounds for a piece. I have also been on the lookout for the same type of mug to commemorate the end of the Second World War but so far have been unsuccessful. My mother remembers them for sale along with other souvenirs at the time but I have yet to add one to my collection. It will be fun hunting one down. I have also purchased plates commemorating Lord Salisbury (1830-1903) William Gladstone (1809-1898) and Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) as well as a cup and saucer in the memory of Field Marshall Lord Roberts VC (1832-1914). I had not planned to find these and just came across them by accident and if memory serves me correctly, I did not pay more than four pounds for any of them. Again, this adds to the variety of this pastime.
One minor peril of this hobby is that sometimes you pick up some of the waifs and strays that are usually to be found on their last legs in a box of tired crockery at a boot fair or a jumble sale. For some ridiculous reason I feel sorry for these creatures and rescue them and now have a few items dating from Victorian and Edwardian times in my collection. I sometimes try to repair them myself but usually leave the previous romantics work intact. As I write this the darkness of January is apparent and my garden is a cauldron of leaves and other seasonal debris. But in a few months’ time when the winds are softer and the days are longer I will be inviting family and friends around for tea and buns and there is a good chance that I will use some of my sturdier 1953 Coronation crockery on the day. If nothing else it will be different and a topic for conversation.
If you are planning an outing or tea on the lawn why not do something different and serve the refreshments on commemorative crockery I think it would be popular. No matter how things change, summer always brings out the Union Jack bunting at the country fetes and cricket matches played lazily on the green. And, if you consume your buns and drink your tea from commemorative crockery that is over sixty years old, this would just add that little bit extra. Only an idea but great fun nonetheless.
© Hungerford Arcade 2015
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